Politics & Government

State senator accused nurses of playing cards on the job. So they dealt her a reality check

State Sen. Maureen Walsh built herself a house of cards.

Last week, she offended nurses nationwide with her comments about them playing cards at work. This week they sent her their own message by dealing her a full house.

About 1,700 decks of playing cards have already arrived at the College Place Republican’s office in Olympia along with messages of outrage.

Walsh has since apologized, saying the comments during a heated Senate debate were taken out of context “but still they crossed the line.”

Her office has been inundated by 10,000 emails and more than 35,000 phone calls since Friday, when the Herald first published the story about the outcry by nurse’s union officials.

Walsh has taken the backlash to heart, and she has also responded to the flood of cards and comments in good humor.

“I like poker as much as anyone, but I think I’m pretty well stocked up right now,” Walsh said in a media release. “One thing’s for sure. It’s a good time to be in the playing-card business.”

Nurses have posted to social media about long days, with little time to use the restroom, let alone get a snack. Many called for her to resign or to be voted out of office. Others said they were mailing decks of cards to her Olympia office.

Sen. Maureen Walsh poses with the avalanche of mail and playing cards that have arrived in her office. Office of Sen. Maureen Walsh

And playing cards began arriving this week by the binload.

She plans to distribute the cards to nursing homes and veterans’ and senior centers. The release said she is asking fellow senators to identify facilities that might be able to use them.

Walsh said she looks forward to receiving a petition posted on change.org that has collected more than 744,000 online signatures, calling for her to shadow a nurse for a 12-hour shift.

“First and foremost, if in fact I insulted anybody — and apparently I insulted a lot of people — I truly do wish to apologize for those comments,” she said, noting that her mother was a registered nurse. “I have nothing but respect and absolute admiration for the work they do, and the people they care for.”

However, Walsh said she is troubled by the way her comments are being used to “drum up” support for the bill.

She said she intended to draw a comparison between well-staffed urban hospitals and lightly visited small-town facilities, and make the point that the Legislature has no business micromanaging their scheduling, said the release.

She contends the issue is more important than a few ill-chosen words on the Senate floor.

“Frankly, I am very embarrassed by the comments, but I am more embarrassed by the fact that this whole issue has been sort of gamed politically, and I am really sorry for that. It’s stinky politics at the best.”

After nurses rallied outside the capitol Wednesday morning, the Senate voted 32-16 just before 1 p.m. for a version of the bill that eliminates the rural hospital exemption.

The House later followed suit with a 70-24 vote, capping a 10-year effort by unions representing health care workers to get the legislation passed. Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law.

The final version delays the mandatory overtime protections for nurses by two years at critical access hospitals and by six months at all other hospitals.

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